Unlikely as it may have seemed, Microsoft has made it clear it has no plans to announce a new Xbox at this year’s E3 in June.
“There will be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon,” said Microsoft spokesperson David Dennis in a statement to Bloomberg. “For us, 2012 is all about Xbox 360.”
It’s not an unexpected revelation, though it does shoot down what rumors and speculation remained about an E3 2012 announcement of the so-called Xbox 720. What’s strange is that Microsoft would even make such a statement; prior to this it had repeatedly declined to comment on reports regarding the Xbox 360′s successor, so to even say as little as Dennis did is a shift from what we’ve seen.
This is, however, the right call for Microsoft to make. The February NPDs released last week show the 360 continues to excel in the United States with its 12th month in a row of 40-plus percent of the current-gen console market share. That is not entirely the result of the competition faltering; Microsoft sold 426,000 systems in the U.S. last month, which is nothing to scoff at. Its sales continue to increase at a point that systems in the past have traditionally declined, as demonstrated in the handy chart below which Microsoft was happy to share with its January NPD spin.
Announcing a new platform this year, even one that launches in 2013 (as Bloomberg says it will, according to two anonymous sources), will do no favors for the 360 and provide little benefit for Microsoft. It’s possible such an announcement could take the wind out of Nintendo’s sails as it plans to push Wii U hard this year starting at E3, but it likely would not be worth it. This isn’t another situation like this generation where Microsoft can get its system out ahead of both competitors, a move that helped to ensure it would not be trounced as the original Xbox was by the PlayStation 2. A 2013 reveal and launch would still almost certainly get Microsoft’s box out ahead of the PlayStation 4; meanwhile it’s unclear how well Wii U will be able to compete with those two.
That we’ve still got a while to wait for the new Xbox (and PS4) is not particularly disappointing news. Like David Jaffe, I know I am in no rush to have to buy even more new hardware when there continues to be a flow of great experiences on existing hardware, whether it come in the form of Mass Effect 3, Journey, or something in between. The current consoles, while drastically underpowered compared with what PCs are capable of, continue to evolve and offer features (HBO Go? Yes, please.) no one would have imagined possible when first scrolling through the 360′s dashboard blades in 2005.
The extra time is good for the console manufacturers, too, as things are quickly changing. The iPad is a powerful device with a screen resolution which trumps anything you’ll play your consoles on, and it offers games for a much cheaper price. The App Store allows developers to deliver frequent updates to their games, something that is not possible on consoles due to the certification processes put in place by Microsoft and Sony.
This subject was touched upon by Capcom senior VP Christian Svensson in an interview with Gamasutra. Speaking about what he’d like to see in the future, he said, “I’m hoping for a much more fluid means of providing updates to consumers, being able to have a much more rapid turnaround in between when content is submitted and when content goes live to consumers, to provide a higher level of service to them. I’m hoping that the networking and the processes in the future are built with that in mind.”
“In many ways, I hope that first-parties react to what’s happening in the PC and smartphone space, in that the barriers between developer and consumer are much lower there,” he continued. “And console makers need to be aware that that’s what they’re competing against, and that’s increasingly what the customer expectation is, in terms of responsiveness and engagement.”
I’m definitely in agreement with Svensson. Developers can react far more quickly to feedback with updates on PC versus consoles, a process that is not helped in the least by the artificial restraints placed upon them by console manufacturers. Team Fortress 2 has evolved unlike any other first-person shooter I can think of, but only on computers. Valve hoped to release the same updates for free on Xbox 360, yet it was never able to do so as Microsoft insisted the content not be given away for free. It’s Microsoft’s platform and it is of course free to do what it wants, but a situation like that is not what you would describe as endearing.
Opening the platforms up flies in the face of what consoles have been in the past, but given the talk of consoles marching toward their deaths (exaggerated, without a doubt, but still a concern), it may be time for certain concepts to be reconsidered. That includes mimicking the openness seen on PC and not handicapping developers with crazy certifications processes.
The longer Microsoft (and Sony) wait to bring out their new consoles, the more time they have to evaluate these sorts of policies. Assuming there is a willingness to adopt some of the more consumer-friendly ideas seen outside of the console business, maybe there won’t as much of a reason to dread the next generation of consoles.
[Xbox mockup courtesy of Yanko Design.]